Richard J Stacpoole-Ryding



One of the logistical or support services that accompanied Brigadier-General Burrows column to the Helmand in July 1880 was the Transport Department and Veterinary staff.  Burrows had to rely upon a large force of animals in order to transport the stores, equipment, ammunition and luggage that went with the column. Although the actions and subsequent demise of the column at Maiwand and the retreat to Kandahar are well recorded including the statistical data that is available, there is very little mention of the support afforded by the animals there.


It was the remit of the Transport Department at Kandahar to supply Burrows with the animals that he required for his column. The department was divided into two sub-departments, the Mule and Pony Establishment and the Camel Establishment. The Chief Director of Transport (Kandahar) was Lieutenant-Colonel Stanley de B Edwardes who was detached from the Bombay Infantry to undertake this responsibility. He served in this capacity throughout the second campaign of the 1878-80 war and at the siege of Kandahar. His services earned him a CB and mention in despatches and promotion to Brigadier-General.[1]


Working alongside the Transport Department was the Army Veterinary Department. The AVD supplied qualified Veterinary Surgeons to cavalry and artillery regiments. Infantry regiments whose officers used horses probably used Veterinary Surgeons from those regiments or local sources. In Kandahar the veterinary services were represented by Veterinary Surgeon Walter Burton Spooner. Born in 1854 he qualified at London University in December 1873 as MRCVS and joined the Army Veterinary Department and gazetted to a Royal Artillery battery. He served throughout the Afghanistan campaign and was mentioned in dispatches for his work at Kandahar.[2] He died on Boxing Day 1902 at Hinton Pava aged 48 years.[3] Working with him was Veterinary Surgeon Arthur D. Bostock who was the Inspecting Veterinary Surgeon for the Transport Service. Bostock also studied at London University and qualified MRCVS on 21 December 1874.[4] Prior to his appointment with the Transport Department he was also attached to a Royal Artillery battery. It is quite conceivable that the two men knew each other at university.


Edwardes and Spooner had the task to supply Burrows with all the animals and support staff for his column. The Transport Department staff were mainly Indian or recruited locally. There was a rank system in place, the senior rank being 1st Class Inspector, followed by Inspector, Jemaders, Duffaders, Surwans, Drivers and other various followers. In the main these men were loyal, hardworking and dedicated to the welfare of the animals in their charge. Animals were owned by the Government, in effect the Army, by individual regiments or hired locally. Burrows transport was made up of Bullocks, Camels, Donkeys, Mules and Ponies. The donkeys were hired locally; the remainder of animals were either Government or Regimental animals. There is no record of any Veterinary Surgeon accompanying this transport column. These animals did not have an easy time. There was no official restriction on the amount of personal equipment and effects that an Officer could take with him and, consequently, a significant proportion of the animals provided were designated for this specific task. A camel could carry about 300 pounds, a mule about 160 and a donkey only 100 pounds. Bullocks were used to pull carts and could at best on a level road travel between one or two miles in an hour, a camel or mule-cart was marginally faster between two or three miles in an hour.[5]


E Battery, B Brigade Royal Horse Artillery had their own Veterinary Surgeon to care for their 136 horses. He was Veterinary Surgeon 1st Class George.A. A. Oliver. He had studied at Edinburgh University and qualified in 1866 as MRCVS. He later became a Fellow of the RCVS. He had a successful army career reaching the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in 1894.[6] He was to have a staff of four enlisted men to assist him looking after the battery horses.[7]


Farrier Sgt 4346 F.Kirkby: Survived Maiwand. Discharged from Army 13.05.1882.

Shoesmith 4107 J. Wright: Survived Maiwand. Died 08.08.1880 at Kandahar.

Shoesmith 4186 G. Walker: Killed in Action at Maiwand 27.07.1880.

Shoesmith 3742 G. Chrat?:  Survived Maiwand.


Oliver himself survived the battle of Maiwand and was one of the first officers to reach Kandahar arriving at about 2.30 a.m on the 28th July. It was of some embarrassment to himself and Major C. V. Oliver of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment that their names became confused and Major Oliver of the 66th was sited as deserting his regiment and arriving at Kandahar before them. This mistake was soon rectified and honour reinstated to all concerned. Oliver was the only Veterinary Surgeon who wrote a full narrative on the battle. During the battle he was close by the battery’s commanding officer Major G. Blackwood and remained behind the firing lines. He had a good view of the action and later moved back to the baggage train in order to water his horse, which was not possible as he could only get water for himself.[8]  Although he gives a brief account of the battle he makes no mention, surprisingly, of the animals and their condition and status before, during and after the battle.              

Burrows column left Kandahar on 5 July 1880, the cavalry and artillery brigade having left the day before. Little forage was taken with the column to feed the animals and this had to be obtained on the way, as was water. The fodder was either scavenged by the native followers or purchased by the Acting Deputy Assistant Commissary-General to the column who was, in this case, Lieutenant G.C. Dobbs of the Bombay Staff Corps. He was in overall charge of the feeding arrangements of the animals in the baggage train. The conditions endured during the march to Helmand were extreme in the least. The roads were dusty and full of holes and difficult to traverse. It was difficult enough during the day, but the column moved mainly in the night when the temperature was cooler. The temperature during the day reached over 112 degrees Fahrenheit. During the night the temperature plummeted well below freezing point. The animals carrying heavy loads had to be goaded to keep moving and even the soldiers found marching in the dark in these conditions extremely difficult. The column marched for an hour and rested for thirty minutes. This allowed the soldiers to rest and sleep and, more importantly, for the baggage train to catch up. Many of the animals wandered away with their loads only to die in the surrounding desert, others were stolen by their keepers and sold, along with their loads, to nearby villagers.


An example of such an incident involved a camel driver who lived in a village near to where the column was passing. He took advantage of the darkness and made off with his camel carrying an officer’s kit and belongings. He was, unfortunately for him, caught by two friendly Afghanis who handed him over to the column. At breakfast they were all brought before General Burrows, who rewarded the two men who had caught the thief. The camel driver was taken away and flogged. It was not uncommon for the camel drivers to steal the animals and loads from the column. It became quite a problem as towards the end of the march there were insufficient drivers to handle all the camels.


The Rev. Alfred Cane who accompanied the column wrote in a letter to his mother in England:[9]


We take no forage with us but buy as we go along and having a very inexperienced and inefficient commissariat officer we often do very badly…You have no notion what a business it is to move about even a force like this of three Regiments, the amount of camels, mules and ponies required, the intricate arrangements that are necessary. Besides the Regiments there are, I suppose, 2000 camp followers and all have to be fed daily.


The officer-in-charge of the baggage train, and therefore supposedly responsible for the animals, was Major J. Ready (left) of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment along with G Company of the Berkshires. He made notes of the columns progress and noted that animals were suffering in the conditions. Ready and his company were also present at Maiwand and responsible for protecting the baggage, supplies and ammunition that the animals had carried.


It was the battle at Maiwand and subsequent retreat to Kandahar that saw the greatest number of animal casualties. There were many factors but the biggest mistake that lead to unnecessary deaths among the cavalry horses was there position – directly in range of the enemy artillery. Burrows failed to move them out of range during the battle. The Royal Horse Artillery suffered losses as they were in the firing line, or just behind it, and therefore once again in range of enemy artillery. They also were in hand to hand combat with Afghan infantry later in the battle which led to losses amongst their animals. The horses were pushed to the absolute limits when the order to withdraw the guns was given. They were thirsty, hungry, tired and probably frightened and confused and yet were urged, with some vigour one suspects, by their drivers to beat a hasty retreat.


The retreat to Kandahar also took a toll on the animals. They were, like their human counterparts, exhausted, hungry and thirsty. Horses were used pull artillery limber that also had the added burden of wounded and exhausted officers and men on board. Mules and donkeys were burdened with the wounded. They were fed and watered where possible along the route to Kandahar but for many the severe heat and total exhaustion took their toll. They died, forgotten, on the long dusty, rough road and surrounding area. A sad end for many of the animals who had endured so much.


The following tables are the official figures for animal casualties following the battle of Maiwand and the retreat to Kandahar. They are taken from General Primrose’s despatch published in the London Gazette date 19 November 1880 and were complied by Colonel S. Edwardes, Director of Transport on 24 August1880.









Cavalry & Royal Horse Artillery


Horse Casualties on the Battlefield



Number on




Exhausted or Wounded


3rd Bombay

Light Cavalry





3rd Sind






E Battery,

B Brigade RHA






Note: E Battery, B Brigade RHA figures not shown on LG page but inserted to show comparison with the other cavalry regiments





Breakdown of

E Battery, B Brigade Royal Horse Artillery

Horse Casualties



Killed in Action


Died of Exhaustion

Shot for Exhaustion

Shot for Wounds at Kandahar

Wounded & Survived









Battery Horses








Note: The 8 horses shown in column 6 were survivors of the battle and retreat to Kandahar

loaned from C Battery 2 Brigade Royal Artillery






Mule & Pony Department

Camel Department



Killed or Destroyed












































It has been mentioned earlier about the native men of the Transport Department and their loyalty to their department and the dedication to the welfare of their animals. During the battle of Maiwand and the retreat to Kandahar they showed this loyalty and dedication and many paid the ultimate price. However it has been noted that many of these men deserted from the battlefield or during the retreat and were probably seen as a disgrace to the Transport Department.


The following table shows the official figures, for those killed, missing and those who were supposed to have deserted from Kandahar. As with the previous tables the figures have been taken from General Primrose’s despatch published in the London Gazette date 19 November 1880 and complied by Colonel S. Edwardes, Director of Transport on 24 August1880.




Camel, Mule & Pony Establishments




At Maiwand

(accounted for)

Known Missing

At Maiwand

Presumed Killed

Supposed to have

Deserted at Kandahar

Inspector (1st  Class)

























Note: London Gazette statistical accounts are not clear as killed, wounded and missing have been combined. The above table has been formulated from the various statistical entries for the various Transport Department establishments in the London Gazette.


E Battery, B Brigade Royal Horse Artillery had their own followers who looked after the horses. These included grass cutters, whose job it was to forage for fodder, and drivers for the bullock carts. They also suffered casualties in the battle of Maiwand and the London Gazette of 19 November 1880 records the names of 53 grass cutters and 4 bullock drivers who were killed.


It would appear from the remainder of the returns in the London Gazette that the Transport Department followers provided all other services to the Infantry and Cavalry regiments.


A project is underway to research the Veterinary Surgeons who served with all the British and Indian regiments and units during the Afghanistan 1878-80 war and publish a database with their professional, service and campaign records and other biographical information.






Portrait photograph of Captain John Ready, 66th (Berkshire) Regiment by kind permission of The Curator, The Rifle (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum, Salisbury.


Explanatory Notes:

MRCVS – Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Veterinary medicine and surgery was studied either at London or Edinburgh University. The qualifying examination entitled the successful student to the post-nominal letters MRCVS.


FRCVS – Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

A qualification gained by a veterinary surgeon after publishing some new or significant research in veterinary medicine. A fellow was regarded as an important and well learned veterinary surgeon.


AVD Rank– Veterinary Surgeons were not accorded the usual commissioned army ranks. The first rank was Veterinary Surgeon, followed by Veterinary Surgeon 1st Class. In effect a Veterinary Surgeon was regarded as the equivalent of Captain and Veterinary Surgeon 1st Class as Major.





[1] Sydney Shadbolt: The Afghan Campaign of 1878-1880, Sampson Low, Searle & Rivington 1882.

[2] London Gazette 3 December 1880.

[3] Register, Charters & Bye-Laws of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons 1878 & 1880.

[4] Register, Charters & Bye-Laws of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons 1878 & 1880.

[5] Brian Robson: The Road to Kabul, Spellmount 2003.

[6] London Gazette 21 August 1894 page 4868.

[7] Afghan War Medal Roll WO 100/54.

[8] Narrative of Veterinary Surgeon G.A.A. Oliver, Royal Horse Artillery, 13 November 1880.

[9] Robson, Brian (ed.), ‘The Kandahar Letters of the Reverend Alfred Cane’, Journal of the Society for Army   Historical Research, Vol. LXIX, nos. 279 & 280 (1991).